This essay developed from Lehmann’s keynote address at the 2014 RAVSAK/PARDES Jewish Day School Leadership Conference in Los Angeles. The response was so strong that we chose to feature it in print, with responses, and dedicate an issue to the theme of mission and vision. We thank Rabbi Lehmann and Hebrew College for permission to share his vision in HaYidion.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Mission & Vision
The key to a school's success is the articulation of a strong mission and vision statement and an administration and board that stick to these ideals. Mission and vision differentiate a school from its peers and proclaims the unique value proposition that the school offers. Reconsider the purpose and mission of Jewish day school education from a variety of perspectives. Then, gain advice for composing a mission statement and discover the range of uses that such a statement can serve.
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When I was growing up, “creativity” was usually a category for extra credit. You got an A for following instructions and for getting the “correct” answer. But if your work had a little extra original thought, some artistry or inspiration, that was an added plus to be rewarded, not a requirement. But I have found that in the curriculum of life, creativity is a requirement. Creativity is not just extra glitter, paint or time spent to perfect a project. It is the disposition, intuition and skill set that allows for having meaningful ideas and combining scientific knowledge and artistry to bring them to fruition. Creativity is the gateway to possibilities that only imagination and ingenuity can offer.
Articles in this section illustrate ways that mission statements can play a concrete role in the life of various school stakeholders. Here, Garfinkel describes a new initiative to ensure that her school’s Jewish mission informs the learning in all classrooms.
Pollin, the head of the day school in New Orleans, offers a model of how a complex, dynamic system that often confronts disruptive forces, such as a day school, can garner its stakeholders and resources for innovative change.
Now two full years into a five-year business plan, the lay and professional leadership of RAVSAK have realized that evaluation and reflection on progress to date is critical to keeping the mission and vision of the organization current. We note with pride many accomplishments and have learned much about timing, the slow nature of change, and the inherent challenges navigating through a very dynamic time for the field. Our conversations, both generative and strategic, have helped us see that organizational growth and environmental change require review of the mission statement and organizational vision on a regular basis, something we very much suggest our member schools engage in as well.
A man came up to me at a party recently and said, “Well, there are at least two families in this community who want their tuition back from the day school.” Taken aback, I asked, “Why?” “Their sons married non-Jewish girls,” he replied and walked away.
My board chair, supported by a small but very vocal group of parents, is insisting that the school reduce the number of hours per week that Jewish Studies are taught in order to allow more time for secular academic electives, fine art, and physical education. This flies in the face of the school’s mission, which espouses commitment to serious study of Jewish texts, Jewish practice and Jewish history and a balanced curriculum of general and Jewish studies.
Lehmann’s essay “Beyond Continuity, Identity, and Literacy” offers a rich, textured, and starkly honest appraisal of the state of Jewish education in America as we move more deeply into the twenty-first century. The essay correctly assumes that the “day school,” largely a postwar American Jewish phenomenon, has now become a mainstay of American Jewish education but has not kept up with the changing fabric of American Jewry or American society.
Beneath the surface, mission statements often give voice to competing values that exist within the school community. The authors describe two main strategies for school leaders to preserve productive relations among the school’s diverse elements.
Often one of the pillars of community day school mission statements, pluralism is an elusive value that can be hard to translate into practice. Lipsky presents ideas for schools take pluralism from the mission statement into the classroom.
In this concluding section, articles explore ways that a school’s mission can serve to catalyze the people and community of a day school. Schrager asks us to consider whether the school’s mission engages stakeholders’ needs for purpose and meaning.
Debrow illuminates the some of the ways that a school’s mission guides the relationship between parents and the school, starting with the recruitment process and continuing throughout the years that their children attend the school.
Shpall argues that a school’s discipline policy provides a platform for putting its mission statement into practice, thus connecting both student and administrator to the school’s values.
Author of the recently released biography Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History, Telushkin draws lessons that day school leaders can learn from the Rebbe.
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